Complex Litigation


Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC’s attorneys have extensive experience representing public agencies throughout California on the full range of litigation matters such agencies face, such as tax, assessment, and fee challenges; election law disputes, land-use and CEQA matters; employment litigation; post-redevelopment matters; and challenges to legislation. The firm represents cities, counties, special districts, joint powers authorities and non-profits in the pre-litigation stage and at mediations, administrative hearings, arbitrations, trial and through all stages of an appeal. The firm has argued 6 cases in the California Supreme Court, in every California Court of Appeal, in the federal trial courts in California and before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

What distinguishes Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC’s litigation practice is our demonstrated experience in handling complex cases, whether that complexity arises from the law at issue in the underlying dispute, such as novel questions of California constitutional law, or from procedural issues such as, for example, actions involving class claims or more than 100 defendants or plaintiffs.

A sample of such complex litigation matters in which our attorneys have advised agencies, includes:

  • Representing 47 cities in a suit against a county to challenge the county’s method of calculating Property Tax Administration Fees it charges such cities. The firm represented the cities from trial through appeal to the California Supreme Court, and obtained a recovery for the coalition estimated at $10 million per year over a six-year span, with 7% interest.
  • Defending over 30 cities in a state telephone tax refund claim brought by purported class representatives from an earlier federal class action and a telecommunications carrier. The firm successfully demurred to the complaint and continues its representation of the group on the appeal which is now pending.
  • Representing twelve redevelopment successor agencies and their associated cities in a constitutional challenge to AB 1484’s provisions that purport to allow the state Department of Finance to help itself to the agencies’ property and sales tax revenues to resolve disputes regarding enforceable obligations of the former redevelopment agencies.
  • Representing the San Diego Tourism Marketing District Corporation in cooperation with the City of San Diego in three separate Proposition 26 challenges to the renewal of a $30 million per year assessment on hotels to fund destination marketing. We obtained dismissal of the first case on standing grounds and continue to defend the others.
  • Representing the Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach in separate class action lawsuits that seek telephone users tax refunds based on a federal tax theory. Each went to the California Supreme Court and both are now pending in the trial courts.
  • Represented the City of Richmond to defend a $24 million per year dispute with Chevron regarding its business license tax, which involved the City’s taxation authority under the commerce clause of the United States Constitution.
  • Representing a city in a dispute with Southern California Gas Co. regarding the cost to relocate mains in conjunction with a freeway interchange project, which requires construing the parties’ respective obligations under the governing franchise ordinance, state statutes and master agreements with CalTrans.
  • Representing the City of San Juan Capistrano in a challenge to its water rates which alleges that inclined block conservation rates violate Proposition 218.
  • Won $1.5 million in refunds and interest for a City water utility against a groundwater recharge agency due to non-compliance with Proposition 218. Successful defense of another groundwater recharge agency after it did comply with Proposition 218 against a challenge brought by dissident well operators.
  • Successful defense of the City of Redding’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) from its electric utility to its general fund, establishing the principle that Proposition 26 is not retroactive as applied to local government.
  • We argued as amicus counsel in Birke v. Oakwood Worldwide, a Court of Appeal decision establishing that a landlord’s decision to allow pervasive secondhand smoke around outdoor swimming pools can be a common law nuisance. The case undermines authorities from the 1960s finding that air pollution can be addressed by statutes and regulations but not by courts in nuisance cases.
  • We represented amici in People ex rel. Lockyer v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which held that a tobacco company’s distribution of free cigarettes violated statutes regulating the non-sale distribution of cigarettes.
  • Michael Colantuono briefed the appeal in Re-Open Rambla, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors (City of Malibu) concluding that Los Angeles County’s title to closed road vested in the City of Malibu upon incorporation.

Regardless of a particular case’s novelty or complexity, the amount at stake, the number of parties or the tactics of opposing counsel, our attorneys know how to effectively manage the case to achieve the best possible outcome in the most efficient manner, protecting both the agency’s legal position and its budget. Known for our public finance work, we can handle so much more!